By Emily Wilska
Our first set of small business organizing challenges comes from Tim (not his real name), who owns a one-man web design company. Tim is in his 40s and has recently been diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). He’s now taking medication to help control the symptoms of ADD, including distractibility, but he finds he still struggles with disorganization in a few areas. Here’s what Tim told me about his challenges.
Challenge #1: Finding a Time/Task Management Method or Tool That Works Well
Tim told me that he’s tried Daytimers, to-do lists (online and paper), and “what seems like hundreds of ‘GTD’ [Getting Things Done, a task management system developed by David Allen] applications and websites,” but hasn’t found anything that sticks. Some of these tools he’s used off and on for years, and others he’s used for a few weeks at a time before moving away from them.
Tim reports, “Lists seem to work best, but managing a notebook (or Daytimer) and pen when I’m out and about is a pain. My Windows Mobile-based phone doesn’t have a very good note-taking app, so I usually end up sending myself an email, which may or may not end up on my ‘master’ to-do list. I have an account on Evernote.com, but there again, if it’s not right in front of me, it’s out of sight, out of mind. I’ve begun using Evernote mainly to log mileage to/from client meetings, and to track my workout results, as I can send that info to the site via their mobile client.”
- Tim, don’t feel the need to find one tool that can do it all. It sounds like you have found a few different methods that are imperfect but promising (sending to do reminders to himself from your phone and using Evernote to track mileage and workouts). Using these methods in combination will likely be easier to manage than trying to find one master tool or program.
- To increase the chances you’ll remember to include tasks you send yourself by e-mail on your master list, choose and use a standardized subject line for these messages (such as “TO DO” or “Add to list”) so they’re easier to identify in your Inbox. You might also consider creating a filter in your e-mail program so that all messages with this subject line are delivered to one folder, rather than being blended with the other messages in your Inbox.
Challenge #2: Creating a Functional Workspace
Tim says that space and paper are also “huge problems.” He has a 6×6 workspace in his master bedroom with a desk/shelf combo, a separate bookshelf, a small table, and two file crates stacked with a cutting board on top. “Every available horizontal surface has paper and stuff on it,” Tim reports. “Filing is done via the ‘make one big stack of all the clutter and sort it out later’ method. The crates have hanging files in them but getting to them is difficult because of the simple lack of space to move around.”
Things have gotten better over the last few weeks, Tim says: he now has two bins on the shelves in front of him for things like receipts, and has been trying a tickler file (see http://organizedlife.blogspot.
- I’m glad to hear about the bins and the tickler file, Tim. It will take some adjustment, but if you can commit to using them regularly for the next several weeks, they’ll either become second nature or you’ll realize that they really don’t work for you and can try other solutions.
- Consider getting a basic file cabinet. You should be able to find a solid, sturdy model that’s relatively inexpensive, and having an easy-to-access place to store papers and files will make it MUCH easier to keep your desktop clear. (In general, the harder any organizing system is to use, the less likely we are to use it, which is why your file crates aren’t working so well: it takes a lot of effort to get at them.)
- Continue to use your file crates to store archived folders, extra office supplies, or anything else that belongs in your workspace but that you don’t need to access often.
Challenge #3: Breaking Down Big Tasks
Finally, Tim tells me that while To Do lists in general are helpful, he sometimes struggles with how to deal with tasks that have more than one component. For example, he says, one of the items on his list is “XYZ Services—finish Jobs section.” The Jobs section, Tim explains, “is a portion of the client’s web site…, and finishing [it] requires a number of tasks that I had previously made a list of.”
“As new tasks come along,” he says, “I’m wondering if I should continue to create separate job-related task lists and add an entry onto the master list, or if I should always use the master list for everything and not go beyond that.”
- Tim, I’m a fan of smaller to do lists that can capture in more detail the sub-tasks involved in a larger task or project. These lists make it easier to keep tabs on all of the things you need to do in order to call a project complete.
- In terms of what to put on your master task list, I’d suggest picking one or two items from each smaller list. For example, rather than writing “XYZ Services—finish Jobs section”—which you won’t be able to cross off your list until you complete every last one of its sub-tasks!—you’d list a few tasks from that project list. This is a great way to track your progress and to revel in the satisfaction of NOT seeing the same looming tasks on your to do list day in and day out.
Share Your Challenges
I want to thank Tim for being willing to share his organizing challenges with me—and, by extension, with all of you. Now I’d love to hear about your challenges. Share your organizing frustrations with me either by e-mail or by leaving a comment on this post. Be sure to include a way of getting in touch so I can contact you for more information.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.